Vishwa Rajesh (left) and Shrijit Nair with origami models at the IEDC event. Photo: TikTalk Newsletter
Tearing pages out of old notebooks and crafting boats and planes are activities typically associated with children.
But when you witness a hall filled with engineering students diligently folding paper to create intricate models, you know this is more than mere child's play.
At the recent IEDC Summit held at Trivandrum Engineering College, a multitude of students had gathered in the hall with a shared purpose: to explore the intricate world of origami, guided by practitioners Shrijit Nair and Vishwa Rajesh.
From space telescopes and robotics to innovative medical solutions and cutting-edge architecture, the ancient Japanese art of origami has emerged as a key element of innovation.
This new role that origami plays in scientific research was the reason that drew students to an introductory workshop held by Shrijit and Vishwa, as they are known.
The duo are active members of a forum known as Kagazee India, with the mission of popularising origami in India. It is a diverse group, drawing members from all corners of India, ranging from school students to working professionals.
While millions have embraced origami as a hobby to craft decorative pieces resembling birds and animals, in recent years, scientists and experts have begun exploring the intricate folding patterns inherent to this art form.
Shrijit, who serves as an HR professional at Schneider Eletric in Dubai, notes that schools, hobbyist groups, facilities such as old age homes, and organisations dedicated to children with autism have all been reaching out to Kagazee India for guidance and engagement.
Experts say that origami folding offers benefits to both the young and the elderly, albeit in different ways. Some individuals report improvements in concentration and memory, while others experience a sense of peace and calmness. There are even reports suggesting that origami may contribute to delaying age-related diseases like dementia.
What makes origami particularly appealing is that it requires no special skills to begin learning, except perhaps patience.
“Patience is something I had in short supply,” admits Vishwa, a student at Kariavattom Engineering College in Trivandrum. “However, origami has taught me how to be patient and focus on my work.”
It is also budget-friendly since one can use any paper to learn origami. There are only three fundamental rules for this art: all models are crafted from a single square sheet of paper, the paper is never cut, and no adhesive is used.
Both Shrijit, aged 37, and Vishwa, aged 20, acquired their origami skills by exploring the internet and reading books. They started sharing their own creations on social media platforms and soon connected with others who were equally enthusiastic about origami.
Their online interactions ultimately gave rise to Kagazee India, even though many core members of the group have yet to meet in person. In fact, Shrijit and Vishwa only met face to face when they attended the IEDC event.
Shrijit says the enthusiastic response of the students was heartwarming. Kagazee is now considering hosting more such interactions in Kerala. Simultaneously, individuals eager to learn about origami are receiving guidance through their website.
Their mission is to reach people all over India and educate them about the benefits of this art form, as many still perceive it as a pastime reserved for children.
Even in Japan, where origami has been practiced for centuries, it only began to be taken seriously in the 1950s. Some practitioners even treated it as a ritual, believing that making 1,000 origami swans would grant their wishes.
Akira Yoshizawa, an origami expert, played a big role in changing how people saw origami. He developed a notation system that illustrated the intricacies of origami folding.
Despite facing hardships in his early life and making a living as a door-to-door salesman of fish dishes, Yoshizawa never abandoned his passion for origami. Remarkably, he went on to create a staggering 50,000 origami models.
Yoshizawa's fortunes took a turn when a magazine commissioned him to craft origami models representing zodiac signs in 1951. This ignited the imagination of the general public.
Acknowledged as the Grand Master of origami, Yoshizawa published numerous books before his death in 2005.
These publications explained folding patterns with the assistance of dotted lines, dashes, and arrows, making origami accessible to people all over the world.
The first origami society in India, known as Origami Mitra, was established in Mumbai 42 years ago. The society regularly organises gatherings of origami enthusiasts in Mumbai and Pune, including annual exhibitions.
“In olden days we had to collect drawings of origami models and learn the art. Now it is available online, and that has led to many people taking up origami,” says Padmaja Pradhan, an architect who is one of the leading figures of Origami Mitra.
She says some architecture schools in Maharashtra now offer origami as an optional subject.
The rapid spread of origami through the internet contributed to its global popularity. Soon, scientists began incorporating origami's folding patterns into their work.
In 2014, Indian-born Harvard Professor Manu Joshi and his team developed a foldable microscope that cost less than one US dollar. This innovative device gained popularity in schools worldwide and was even used in countries like Uganda to detect malaria outbreaks.
Former Nasa scientist Robert J Lang elevated origami to a whole new level by delving into the mathematical and geometrical aspects of the art.
After leaving his job, Lang became a full-time paper folder in the early 2000s, dedicating his time to developing new folding patterns.
His contributions were integrated into a German software program that simulates airbag deployment, providing manufacturers with the first geometrically accurate method for folding a three-dimensional airbag.
The folding patterns derived from origami have paved the way for scientists to devise methods for fitting technology into confined spaces, such as within rockets.
For instance, the sun shield used by the James Webb Telescope, which is as large as a tennis court, was folded twelve times using origami principles to fit inside the rocket.
The growing application of this Japanese art in scientific domains, such as protein folding analysis, emphasizes the benefits of introducing students to origami.
Furthermore, education experts say that origami serves as an enjoyable method for teachers to explain geometry and fractions to young students.
The Kagazee group is currently in the process of developing a comprehensive online course to assist those who wish to learn origami.
One of their key objectives is to ensure that people understand the true essence of origami. Many platforms suggest using scissors and glue to create origami models.
“That is not pure origami. We want to spread the joy of creating models with a single sheet of paper, using just their hands and their imagination,” says Vishwa, who is a rising star in the Kagazee group and has created around 30 origami models in just over a year.
Vishwa, whose primary interest lies in robotics, first encountered origami as a child when he came across a model in a book. However, his fascination with the art truly blossomed during his teenage years.
Shrijit, whose family originates from Palakkad but completed most of his studies in Goa, says that his interest in origami significantly benefited his education.
“I wasn’t particularly fond of maths early on, but origami helped me with my geometry and maths assignments.” His deep involvement with the art began when he moved to the UAE and had more spare time after office hours.
He encourages anyone with some spare time to take up the art. “Age is not a factor. My six-year-old daughter is also into it now. We have even used Subway sandwich wrappers to create origami models,” he says with a laugh.
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